Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Peter, Paul, and Mary are still relevant today

The history of El Salvador is long and complicated, and dates back to pre-Columbian times, when the population existed on the eastern edges of the Mayan Empire. The first Europeans landed in the country in 1522, and the country remained under Spanish control until 1821, when it received independence from Spain.

Life in El Salvador in the 20th Century was marked by a series of coups and much political instability. A few years prior to the start of the (highly illegal) Iran-Contra scandal, the United States decided to get involved in the politics of El Salvador, and threw its support to one of the military juntas vying for power. Notes from the Wikipedia article about El Salvador under “the October 1979 coup d’etat” provide more details, but the reality is that our “assistance” led to the start of the Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1980 to 1992.

The human rights violations that we caused during that civil war stirred outrage in a singing trio that we’re all familiar with, and they released a song titled “El Salvador” in 1982. It turned out to be one of the most controversial songs that they had ever recorded, and caused them to be booed at some of their concerts in the mid to late 1980’s. Group member Mary Travers traveled to El Salvador in 1983, and was appalled at “the terrorism, rapes, and murders” that our country was paying for.

The song itself is a nice tune, and can be heard by clicking on the link below:

El Salvador song

If you're comfortable with working with multiple Windows at the same time, and would like to follow along with the song, the lyrics are posted below:

There's a sunny little country south of Mexico

Where the winds are gentle and the waters flow

But breezes aren't the only things that blow

in El Salvador

If you took the little lady for a moonlight drive

Odds are still good you'd come back alive

But everyone is innocent until they arrive

in El Salvador

If the rebels take a bus on the grand highway

The government destroys a village miles away

The man on the radio says 'now we'll play South of the Border'

And in the morning the natives say,

We're happy you have lived another day

Last night a thousand more passed away

in El Salvador

There's a television crew here from ABC

Filming Rio Lempa and the refugees

Calling murdered children the 'tragedy'

of El Salvador

Before the government cameras 20 feet away

Another man is asking for continued aid

Food and medicine and hand grenades

for El Salvador

There's a thump, a rumble, and the buildings sway

A soldier fires the acid spray

The public address system starts to play South of the Border

You run for cover and hide your eyes

You hear the screams from paradise

They've fallen further than you realize

in El Salvador

Just like Poland is 'protected' by her Russian friends

The junta is 'assisted' by Americans

And if 60 million dollars seems too much to spend

in El Salvador

They say for half a billion they could do it right

Bomb all day, burn all night

Until there's not a living thing upright

in El Salvador

They'll continue training troops in the USA

And watch the nuns that got away

And teach the military bands to play South of the Border

And kill the people to set them free

Who put this price on their liberty?

Don't you think it's time to leave El Salvador?

Since the civil war in El Salvador ended more than 20 years ago, most of us have forgotten all about our neighbor in Central America, but recent events have brought the country very much back in focus in recent months, and have reignited yet another “culture war” between the liberals and the conservatives in our country. In the past 8 months, 47,000 unaccompanied migrant children have crossed into the United States, and the vast majority of them have come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Their arrival has swamped immigration centers in Texas, which has caused a fairly large number of them to be diverted to Arizona.

Their reasons for coming here are clear, since all three countries are plagued with gang and drug violence. Honduras now has the highest murder rate in the entire world, at 90.4 homicides per 100,000 or population. El Salvador is #4, at 41.2 per 100,000, and Guatemala is #5, with 39.9 murders per 100,000.

What's less clear is the fact that the massive influx of refuges is, in large part, OUR FAULT. The Inter-American Convention against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Ammunition, Explosives and Other Related Materials was ratified by 31 of the 34 nations in the Organization of American States in 1997. Although Canada, Jamaica, and the United States signed the treaty, none of them have ratified the treaty as of today's date. President Obama has asked the Senate, once again, to ratify the treaty, but no action has been taken as of yet. Since 70% of the weapons seized by Mexican authorities were made in America, and a similar percentage of the weapons in Central America come from the same source, it's fairly obvious that our ratification of the treaty would have resulted in lower crime rates in the three countries involved, which would result in far fewer refugees being forced to flee their home country.

The United States has maintained an aggressive deportation program since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and we deported 409, 849 in 2012. Although 59% of the undocumented migrants are from Mexico, the Pew Hispanic center announced in April of 2012 that net migration from Mexico to the United States is now actually negative. From 2005 to 2010, 1.4 million Mexicans immigrated to the United States. In the same time period, slightly MORE than that number went the other day, due to REDUCED job opportunities in the United States, and INCREASED opportunities in Mexico.

The ultra conservative faction of our society (the group that keeps trying to impeach Barack Obama for a variety of imagined offenses) feels that the flood of children from Central America to the United States is “an invasion”.

In full recognition of the fact that simply sending the children back to their country of origin would likely be a death sentence, the Border Patrol is providing basic shelter to the children until they can be sent to juvenile detention centers around the country. Once there, efforts are made to release them to relatives in the United States, on the condition that they cooperate with deportation proceedings.

Due to the fact that the flood of children from Central America is a REGIONAL problem, and not just a United States problem, President Obama spoke with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Thursday of this week, and Vice President Joe Biden met with Central American leaders in Guatemala on Friday to discuss ways to handle the situation. On Tuesday of this week, Congress increased funding so that the Department of Health and Human Services would be able to provide temporary food and shelter for the estimated 130,000 minors that are expected to arrive here in the next year.

As always, the issue of how to deal with illegal immigrants to our country is a thorny issue, one we’ve been plagued with for a long time. For now, immigration reform of any kind is unlikely until after the mid-term elections, but COULD happen during the last two years of Obama’s Presidency IF the right combination of people get elected in November. In the interim, Paul Stookey traveled to Dallas just last week to address that very issue.

For many years, Peter, Paul, and Mary were concerned with social issues, and essentially became a milder version of the protest songs of Pete Seeger. Although Mary Travers passed away in 2009, both Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow (both 76 years old) continue to perform today. Neither of them could possibly have imagined that the humanitarian crisis that they sang about in 1982 would still exist today. The closing line of their song was “don’t you think it’s time we leave El Salvador?“. Ultimately, we did, but now we have a new problem.

El Salvador has come to us.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Love on the rocks

New Mexico calls itself “the Land of Enchantment”, but it’s clear that my new home state of Arizona also has plenty of magic, and it’s not limited to the Grand Canyon, which is the 2nd most visited National Park in America (the Great Smoky Mountains are #1)

The first time that I saw Sedona, the sight of all those magnificent red rocks literally took my breath away. Since that first visit in 1998, we’ve been back to Sedona numerous times, due to the fact that the town has PLENTY of things to do and LOTS of gorgeous sights to see.

My favorite place in Sedona, though, is a local church that I’ve been to more times than I can count. Officially, it’s called the Chapel of the Holy Cross, and it’s owned by the Diocese of Phoenix. A local Catholic parish, St. John Vianney, maintains the property.

The chapel was commissioned by local rancher and sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, who had been inspired in 1932 by the newly constructed Empire State Building to build a church that incorporated a cross in its design. After an attempt to do so in Europe (with the help of the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright), was aborted due to the outbreak of World War II, she decided to build the church in her native region.

It literally took an act of Congress (thanks to the late Senator Barry Goldwater) to get a special use permit to build the chapel on land of the Coconino National Forest. The chapel first opened its doors in 1956, and won an Award of Honor from the American Institute of Architects the following year. It has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior, and is landmark #19 of the City of Sedona.

The chapel gets thousands of visitors each month. If you page through the guest book just inside the front door, you’ll notice that visitors come here from all over the world, and it’s not unusual to see visitors from China mixed in with visitors from virtually every state in America. On our most recent visit, on June 7, we met 2 couples from Canada, but we also learned something about the chapel that I previously had been unaware of, and it’s related to love.

Marguerite Staude had the chapel build as a memorial to her parents, who were devout Catholics. As a result, it makes it one of the most dramatic show of love of parents that you’ll see anywhere.

Rather than limit the beauty of the place just to Catholics, Marguerite Staude declared that no services could be held at the chapel. It was, and is, still a place for people of all faiths to pray and reflect and find God through the beauty of art. Marguerite created a Madonna sculpture for the Chapel, and she created the Stations of the Cross of rough antique nails, Another stone carved sculpture, of the head of Jesus, sits to the rear of the Chapel. Until her death in 1988, Marguerite received letters from all over the world from visitors who had marveled at the beauty of the Chapel and the surrounding area, proof that she had achieved her goal to build a place that would "send the spirit onward."

As we were leaving the chapel last Saturday, a group of people standing near the entrance started clapping. We quickly learned that a couple standing outside the entrance, on the right side, had just become engaged. We congratulated Thomas and Ashley as we left, and I suddenly realized that their story needed to be told. According to one of the on site volunteers, there have been LOTS of couples that have become engaged on the grounds of the chapel. Although I have no way of proving it, I suspect that an awful lot of marriages that started out as “love on the rocks” are still going strong today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A D-Day tribute

Even though it’s been 70 years since the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, there are still 1.7 million Americans living today who served in World War II. Of the more than 16,000,000 people who served in that conflict, over 400,000 were killed, and nearly 700,000 were wounded. By the year 2036, the VA estimates that all of the World War II veterans will be gone.

Most of us have seen “Saving Private Ryan” , one of the six movies produced that were devoted either entirely or largely to the D-Day invasion. All of them pay tribute to the brave guys who participated in “Operation Overlord”, but it’s already been 13 years since the most recent production, Band of Brothers, was released.

Although the vets who served in World War II deserve our respect, so do the men and women who have donned the uniform since that time. One of the best tributes to our servicemen and women that I've seen doesn‘t need any words to convey our gratitude, and is worth watching:

a tribute to our soldiers

If you’d like to thank Food City for producing this ad (I used one of the 2 stores in Tucson as a reference point), their contact information is listed below:

contact Food City